Grape Olive Pig: Deep Travels Through Spain’s Food Culture

by Matt Goulding
Harper Wave/Anthony Bourdain Books

reviewed by Christopher Klim

“You can tell how serious a culture is about an animal by how thoroughly they butcher it.”

Spain is a conundrum. Married to the past, modernized by the European Union, unified and fractured by blood and history, it is a country that embraces both common and diverse cultures with grace. It’s a happy family about to burst into a bitter feud at any moment, but the food and lifestyle that surrounds it is as good as it gets in Europe while coming off as deceivingly simple. This landscape is covered in Goulding’s excellent tour of Spanish food and living from top to bottom and east to west. However, the book after all is titled, Grape Olive Pig, and so let’s begin there, folding in Goulding’s observations along the way.

Spanish wine—the grape part of the discussion—is misunderstood and misclassified in America. As they say in Spain, they need to do a better job of advertising their varietals, at least as good of a job as they do in France or Italy. Keep in mind, there have been times when Spain provided grapes to France due to vine disease or France would have had no wine to drink. Always seeking simplicity and the perfect note, Spanish wine covers the palate as well as any country’s offerings, but if wine is something you prefer to drink with food, cava—Spain’s answer to champagne—is what to drink everywhere else. There’s a cava for every taste and budget, and it’s sold in stores beside soda pop and water. So much so that you might think Spaniards drink cava instead of water. Well, some do.

Olives are the thing you get while awaiting a meal, although they could be served as part of a tapas spread. This makes them seem like a second thought, but this is in no way true. The olive has been mastered in this country, and they are reason enough to return. They are stuffed, pitted, or served au naturale and on the stem, but they aren’t cured to the extent of their Italian cousins. This exhibits a fundamental attitude about Spanish cooking: Leave the ingredients alone; seek out the freshest and finest, and let them do their best work unmolested. The elements of a Spanish meal are easily identifiable, leaving no place for them to hide and nary a cover-up.

The way in which Spaniards prepare the pig is second to none. Italians will argue, but this reviewer has gotten down and dirty with both and gives the edge to Spain, although either one would leave you in porcine bliss. Again, the start is paramount to success. The black-footed ibérico pig—free-ranged and fed a diet of acorns—serves up the finest sausages and hams on the planet. The varieties are complex, succulent, and individual signatures of Spain’s regions.

In this cultural guide and musings, Goulding, an expat and resident of charming and accessible Barcelona, circumnavigates Spain’s regions and serves up history and food through both personal and cultural reflection. Spain’s pivotal importance in western culture requires a wide-angle lens, but to provide illumination, the author drops into details at just the right moment to offer the essence of each stop along the way. He reiterates the culture’s emphasis on simple, fresh market ingredients—a salad consists of just-picked lettuce, liberally applied olive oil, and salt; paella requires saffron rice, salt, pepper, and the right pan and staples to determine its outcome; meat is freshly butchered and simply grilled with little and often no seasoning; and dozens of tempting variations build up from olive oil and tomato smeared bread.

This is not Goulding’s first rodeo on the food tour. He’s an experienced chef and columnist, who’s written a similar food memoir in Rice Noodle Fish, also plumbing the elemental nature of travel experience within the local cuisine. So watch out. He’s got more to say about what you might eat in the future. However, you’re not going to stick this book among your cookbooks, and you’re not going to place it on your bookshelf beside Como agua para chocolate. You’re going to drop it on your coffee table and invite friends to take it home, but then bring it back. Promise?

In a time when it seems as if the art book is giving way to mass-produced paperbacks that disintegrate faster than an Antarctic ice shelf, the hard cover production of Grape Olive Pig is gorgeous, a labor of love with an engrossing layout and beautiful photos, graphics, and lettering. The writing reveals intimate knowledge of Spanish food, but hooks you with a shared memoir that kisses the line of overly personal but never crosses it. That’s the tease that keeps this book moving forward and allows you to see the overview of Spanish cuisine while making sense of it. This book is perfectly composed, with the just the right and freshest ingredients.

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Free Women, Free Men: Sex – Gender – Feminism

by Camille Paglia
Pantheon Books

reviewed by Christopher Klim

“…the sexes are caught in a comedy of historical indebtedness. Man, repelled by his debt to physical mother, created an alternate reality, a heterocosm to give him the illusion of freedom. Woman, at first content to accept man’s protections but now inflamed with desire for her own illusory freedom, invades man’s systems and suppresses her indebtedness to him as she steals them.”

Bob Dylan once said that he’d never run out of material because “man can’t change.” This applies to the so-called battle of the sexes. It will always be afoot, changing only boundaries and battlefronts, and therefore author and intellect Camille Paglia will never run out of material. In her collection of essays spanning three decades, she doesn’t further the conflict as much as calling for real progress. She tries to make sense of the way we live now. And plenty sense, she does make.

Paglia writes about two main themes: modern feminism and contemporary academia. Fair enough. Most writers cover only two or three topics within their lifetimes, but pigeonholing this author into just two themes would be a gross simplification. While modern feminism and academia can be explosive topics—and the author admits to dropping bombs down the hatch and into their coveted halls—she delivers a common sense approach to her analysis that is often avoided on those fronts. By questioning their misguided efforts to achieve noble goals, she ends up challenging the working precepts of feminism and academia today.

Among her most common sense articles is “Rape and Modern Sex War.” It was originally an op-ed piece for the New York Times and ultimately one of her most contentious essays. Although she claims that the piece was diced and sliced by both editors and detractors across the globe, its message is clear: Rape is an unacceptable crime in a civilized society, but women will always need to be careful. Accepting that men can be a combustible breed, only a small fraction of one percent are rapists. Still, that fraction, given the right circumstances, can be dangerous, and a woman roaming freely in society must be alert to her specific dynamic and situation. Any person for that matter must be responsible for her/his own safety whenever possible. This simple advice evoked the ire of modern feminists, who on campus have positioned all incoming freshman males as potential rapists and therefore induced stifling constraints like overprotective mothers. They found the author’s call for personal responsibility to be insensitive if not outrageous, which is stunning for organizations hoping to train young men and women to go out into the dirty world. This reaction to Paglia’s article—revisited within the book’s introduction—delineates both the naiveté and recklessness of modern feminism and academia as a combined force.

“The Modern Campus Cannot Comprehend Evil” furthers the argument of academic regression. Campuses have transformed into idealistic and protective havens that fail to identify the evil inherent in mankind. With the infantilizing of students and the naive commitment to state of mind politics, students inside the campus bubble are left vulnerable by their own actions and to those who prey upon risky choices. Perhaps the author might have additionally recognized the indoctrination of campus-wide atheism, which ignores evil en route to debunking the existence of God as an all-powerful entity for good. Essential to the Judeo-Christian tradition and other religions is the battle between good and evil and, most importantly, the understanding of each. While campus religious indoctrination is no less acceptable than promoting atheistic beliefs, the campus chapel relationship continues to be dismantled, cutting off an avenue for students to learn about evil or at the very least know of its existence. In the absence of informed caution, there will be blind, misguided fear once trouble bursts the campus bubble, and a scared and ignorant group is historically easy to manipulate.

In “Are Men Obsolete?” the author explores the male as endangered species. As absurd as it sounds, the extinction of men, or at least the erasure of maleness, is a hallmark of radical feminism. As women continue to populate power positions within society, it’s the men who predominantly perform the dirty, hair-raising jobs, and when dark times arrive, women still glance at the men, if only furtively so, to get moving and fight for the risky solutions. And men do without question. While there will always be exceptions on both sides of the divide, they will be rare, and the reaction will be predictable along gender lines, driven by a combination of innate sensibilities and nature. She concludes by pointing out that the end of men would undoubtedly, outside of a sci-fi-horror-like society, result in the extinction of women as well. Each sex requires the other, and it’s time to acknowledge the strengths of each going forward.

Few will argue that feminism began as a righteous equality movement that demanded inclusion in a male-dominated society, but as the author points out, modern feminism has morphed into a disgruntled separatist scheme keen on exaggerating and vilifying male uniqueness. Its extreme elements want to erase maleness altogether, and in doing so, they have diminished what is unique and powerful about womanhood in order to create an idealistic homogeneous society. Why do you think millennial males so soundly ignored the January 2017 vagina monologues in Washington DC? In a modern world, it should make no difference whether one has a vagina or not. But of course it matters. Still, modern feminists have rejected biology and the undeniable differences between men and women that have equally shared in the shaping of civilization. It’s a kind of suicide of thought that willingly blinds itself to half of the facts.

This reckless course has been heartily supported by academia and enforced by a super-parental control body on campus that suppresses free speech and thought. As a result, intellectual discourse has suffered irreparable harm, not to mention damaging a generation of male creativeness and entrepreneurship. The modern male has to escape academia to succeed, rather than grow within its crucible. In truth, the modern female would do well to absorb as little of this poison as possible and work to secure her power position within society, not by force or politically correct control, but by her uniqueness and innate skill.

Paglia questions why modern academia has selected a course of thought suppression over its seminal nature of thought crucible—that once-hallowed proving ground for analyzing any idea. Great American thinker Eric Hoffer has the answer: The universities have been overrun by intellectuals (mostly of the modern Feminist and Marxist variety or some combination of the two), and the intellectual longs to turn the world into a giant classroom in order to indoctrinate their singular vein of thought. Everyone else gets punished severely for thinking out of line. Throughout history, we’ve seen this bloodless behavior repeated by those who usurp power.

Policies on campus and in government appear to be fear-driven and fear-inducing, but luckily we have Paglia bravely speaking out against the intellectual zombies that seek to stunt true progress and real intellectual discourse. Certainly she’s taken hits from various quarters for her outspokenness, but as this collection of essays proves, she has stood the test of time. More importantly, her arguments are as bulletproof as anyone’s anywhere and worthy of authentic discussion. In a time of regressive thought and destructive trends, Paglia is one of mans’ best friends.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

Ethics in the Real World by Peter Singer

Ethics in the Real World: 82 Brief Essays on Things That Matter

by Peter Singer
Princeton University Press

reviewed by Christopher Klim

“Once we start to question our evolved and culturally transmitted intuitive responses to moral issues, utilitarianism is, I believe, the most defensible ethical view…”

Peter Singer, bioethics professor and prolific essayist, has assembled a collection of writings on ethics. Sharing his views for decades, there are few topics, if any, this modern thinker has not touched upon. To cover the breadth of them in this review would be futile. While his point of view might be controversial to opposing thought, his words are vital in a society sorely lacking in civil public discourse. Regardless of our individual beliefs, it is essential that we consider arguments of focused and reasoned philosophers. In a time of swords and blood, thinkers like Singer are the antidote.

From the opening of this compendium, Singer is unafraid to tackle the big questions, and the existence of God is a philosophical debate for the ages. He focuses often on feelings as a supporting argument, particularly human suffering and its recurring merciless state. True, how can one assert the presence of an all-powerful God and justify world suffering in all of its forms? With this criterion as the basis, belief in God is impossible to sustain. However, Singer’s arguments are cherry-picked and at times more interested in highlighting the points he’s scored in public debate. He’s failed to absorb the full question, overlooking the existence of evil in all of its forms. Including this battleground and the mission of faith on Earth, so central to the Judeo-Christian tradition and others, might form a more complete debate.

Singer argues strongly in favor of godless morality, that it is human nature to construct morality. Moral principles, whether God-given or a manifestation of humankind, help to create a social structure in which people thrive. No one can deny this as a driving factor in the advancement of civilization. The author’s godless morality harkens Eric Hoffer’s query that the Ten Commandments, which is essentially an ethical code to lessen the chaos of humanity, was either divine in origin or man’s greatest invention. Singer plants himself in the latter camp. However, it makes one think: Does the genesis of morality really matter? To the pragmatist or historian, no. To the humanist or spiritualist, yes.

The author makes a strong case for the humane treatment of animals, including not killing or eating them. This has long been one his hallmark debates. Indeed, there is much evidence for the existence of emotional reason within nonhuman life forms and that the slaughter of animals for food is inhumane, if not unnecessary and perhaps nihilistic, in the modern world. This argument contradicts his support for abortion. He further asserts that not all life is worth the resources required to preserve or elongate it. This includes the right to choose death over life. The belief in the innate compassion of animals versus the selective diminishment of human life is a long-standing progressive conundrum that won’t be resolved any time soon.

The author delves into politics as well. Here we see progressive tenets addressed in summary fashion: defending utilitarianism, limiting religious freedom, embracing climate change solutions, pushing toward socialism and global governance, and demoting the US Constitution, to name a few. None of the pitfalls of these movements are touched upon. He hints at the egregious impingement of rights following 9-11, and he thankfully supports the complete freedom of speech, which has been for decades under assault by a neo-fascist progressive wing. He supports ethics—not fundamentalist restrictions—in science, which include global access to technology and information, humanitarian and environmentally conscious progression of the disciplines, and the silly notion of rights for robots. On that latter point, if one rejects the metaphysical nature of human existence unless given empirical proof, it’s easy to view a spirit in anything, even in a tumbling rock.

Singer’s writing is succinct and accessible as a manner of intent. Being able to write clearly and without pretension is a sign of intelligence and humility, for which any reader will be grateful. His arguments are well-defined, if not at times self-limited, although most skilled debaters tend to circumnavigate points that most challenge their suppositions. His essays do provoke an issue not often considered: Ethics are subject to a person’s belief system. We each have a belief system that falls somewhere between atheism and fundamentalism, and the dreaded confirmation bias is unavoidable. The world is a patchwork of various ethical codes, and when brought into bitter conflict, they can provoke outright war. The futility of this is difficult to refute. While the hope of assimilating ethics into a common code is slim, discussing various philosophies is useful and helps to maintain a civil opposition. Singer has his firm beliefs as well, and his book might be more appropriately called “Ethics in the Atheist World.” It’s a valid point of view of the godless moral principles. Nowhere are these better explained.

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The Book

by Julius Freedman
Old Stone Press

reviewed by Christopher Klim

“Books, I tell my students, are objects with stories both over and secret.”

It’s been a decade since an art book has taken the grand prize for the Eric Hoffer Book Award, but this beauty kept rising to the top of our judges’ scoring cards. Have you ever seen a book after it becomes wet and dries? It screams, with a puffed chest of curling pages like the arms of a roiling sea monster. Julius Freedman shows us this and more, as he takes on the book as both physical and symbolic object. In a sequence of building images, The Book begins with a book as art in its purest form—its complex leather bindings, the embedded tabs of a dictionary, the pages of sophisticated rag or weave. Then books begin to take flight, with pages misshapen, eventually cracking and splitting from their spines, the print itself escaping, until we enter the realm of collage, yet always tethered to the concept of a book itself.

Is a book a mere extension of our memories, or does it go deeper than its byproduct overlap with our brains? If Gabriel Garcia Marquez created a book to fit his prose, it might result in one of Freedman’s constructions. The organization, as well as thoughtful commentary by Pico Iyer and Jill Gage, strike the right balance with the art presentation. Unique, whimsy, thought-provoking, this beautiful coffee table edition is worthy of any collection. but it is so much more. It envelopes the very concept of the book itself. Bravo.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

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How We’ll Live on Mars

by Stephen L. Petranek
Simon & Schuster

reviewed by Christopher Klim

“There are some wildcards in terraforming Mars, including the possibility of reawakening ancient life-forms.”

President Nixon’s legacy, and resulting long shadow over history, rests with two monumental blunders unknown to most people. He took the US dollar off the gold standard, resulting in a global currency destabilization that may soon come home to roost. In addition, he canceled the Saturn V rocket—the largest rocket ever assembled by mankind, the rocket that would have launched astronauts to Mars. Without either of those decisions, the US space program might have already colonized the red planet and would have the money to accomplish it.

After a fifty-year malaise, NASA lacks both the funding and the technological will to get the job done. Although it appears to be catching up for lost time, it has purposefully suffered from a presidential lack of vision leading from Nixon to Obama. In short, the US is decades behind where it should be. Make no mistake about it; going as far back as the Mercury Program days and beyond, Mars has always been the goal. Its similarity to Earth and its close proximity to the mineral-rich asteroid belt make it the ultimate target within our solar system.

Petranek covers the basics of a potential trip to and the colonization of Mars in what appears to be a reprint of a TED lecture rather than any in-depth discussion on the topic. Still, he covers the necessary points regarding why, how, and then what happens next. Achieving Mars will be complicated. If cutting-edge engine technology doesn’t pan out, the trip will be a minimum of six to ten months, all the while exposing humans to an unprecedented level of radiation that doesn’t cease once they reach the planet. On the surface, humans must immediately tend to the basics of food, water, oxygen, and shelter. Temperatures range from 80 degrees to -225 degrees Fahrenheit, and the atmosphere is toxic. Luckily but not easily, Mars has water frozen at the poles, in regolith rock, and perhaps below the surface, and if you can reclaim water, you can make all the oxygen you require.

The author sticks with the theory that travelers to Mars will never return to Earth. This opposes a more ambitious plan for a Mars cycler commuting between planets while carrying passengers and cargo. Regardless of the approach, early arrivals to Mars will need to bring everything they need to survive, but to establish a colony, they’ll need to generate all vital staples on-site, including growing plants to eat and creating parts for repair and construction. Eventually they’ll go about the process of terraforming the surface to sustain life. A few theories regarding this latter transformation are kicked around in this book as well.

At times, the author pays too much homage to private enterprise players such as Elon Musk, but given NASA’s slowed pace and funding, it’s logical that humans aren’t going to reach Mars without the commercial interests of partners. Virtually no great human migration has been accomplished on idealism alone. For example, Christopher Columbus, like the Vikings before him, traveled to the New World in search of treasure for his homeland. Later on, the Pilgrims arrived via private funding with the hope of establishing a regular income stream for their investors.

Mars is the New World, and like the explorers that preceded them on Earth, travelers to Mars will go to change their lives, discover new frontiers for the species, and harvest the planet’s riches. Before long, our descendants will not return to Earth, but become Martians for future generations. This book provides an overview of how that might happen.

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Don’t Suck, Don’t Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt

by Kristin Hersh
University of Texas Press

reviewed by Christopher Klim

“Hope’ has always stuck in my head. You hated hope, said it was misguided.”

If your introduction to Vic Chesnutt was the benefit album Sweet Relief II, you quickly moved past the great celebrity performances and asked: Who is this songwriter and why haven’t I heard of him before? If you still haven’t heard of Chesnutt—or the author of this book for that matter—you’d better go record shopping this afternoon before someone spots your musical blind spot. Regardless, in this haunting, poetic, musical road show memoir, singer/songwriter Kristin Hersh takes us inside her friendship with Chesnutt. Her experience is as insightful to a musician’s life as it is to the human existence—constantly probing and reevaluating self-understanding along with her footing on the planet.

Chesnutt, paralyzed since eighteen years of age, is a songwriter’s songwriter, whose catalogue has been rerecorded and admired for decades. He passed away on Christmas 2009 after an apparent self-induced overdose. He would likely find the sentimentality of that date to be nauseating. There was very little he wouldn’t poke fun of, including himself. He came across as somewhat twisted by life’s cruel blows and ironies, but he was beautiful as well, like a modern sculpture that acknowledges the past but rearranges it in a compelling way. As Hersh says, “he was broken in all the right places.” Listening to his songs, you had the feeling that you were always hearing the real Vic Chesnutt.

Much of this book covers a shared tour when Chesnutt was a decade or more into a brilliant career launch and Hersh was composing one of her best solo albums. You’ll understand Hersh’s must-have Sunny Border Blue better after reading this book. The line between Chesnutt’s everyday discourse and songs will be blurred. From town to town and stop to stop, as their vigilant spouses watch and occasionally mop up after them, Chesnutt and Hersh bounce off each other intellectually and emotionally, achieving spare equilibrium in one of the truly unique musical relationships.

The ending is the curtain fall you expected, although the author fights hard to meter her words while the songwriter fights just as hard to mute her sound regarding the event. Grief doesn’t get processed in a minute, a day, a year. Grief puts a new song in your head, one you never wanted to hear. Hersh sketches the loss, that song.

While a smidge more orientation would have been appreciated in general, this narrative isn’t about place and time. The writing is a lot like Hersh’s songs—focusing on moments, reflections, and the stray-dog objects that compose life. There are lines you’ll never forget, and you can’t help but love the adorable, self-sabotaging, curmudgeon Chesnutt revealed in these pages. You’ll wish you’d been there to absorb his flak backstage or in the southern sun. On balance, this book stands as a testament to the sincerity of his songwriting.

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Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space

by Janna Levin
Knopf

“We see evidence of black holes destroying neighboring stars. We see evidence of super black holes in centers of galaxies… But we have never really seen a black hole, which only adds to the thrill of the prospect of hearing them.”

Astronauts returning on the space shuttle once told this former satellite designer and space program physicist: “You have no idea how much gravity is pulling down on all of us.” Home from the sheer joy of weightlessness in space, the dynamics of gravity were suddenly made real, pulling their shoulders and compressing their spines closer to Earth. It was a reminder of one of the universe’s illusive mysteries—gravity. We can measure and explain it, but we cannot see or hear it… yet. Physicist and writer Janna Levin takes us on the journey to detect, listen for, gravitational waves as the byproduct of a gigantic collision between black holes.

In simple terms, black holes form an incredibly dense mass. For scientists, this is where the fun begins. Since mass is an essential component of gravity, the extreme density of black holes will crush atoms and even bend light under its own weight. Yes, light has weight, and therefore one cannot really see a black hole, because light becomes trapped inside of it.

Decades ago, the movie Black Hole depicted a spacecraft passing through a black hole. This is science-fantasy. Anything with mass in close proximity to a black hole will not pass through it. Instead, the atoms of the spacecraft and the crew inside will become so densely packed that the result will no longer be visible to the naked eye, not to mention eliminating the viability of the spacecraft and its occupants. A black hole generates pressure of astronomical proportions. In a world of unnecessary hyperbole, it’s literally appropriate to apply the description “astronomical proportions” to a black hole.

For the purposes of Levin’s book, as two of these monster black holes draw near, anomalies in gravity will create waves that ring through space, but by the time they reach the Earth, they will be so slight that they will not be felt or heard by even the knowing. So what device will be needed to detect this phenomenon? By the mid-twentieth century, planning for and construction of full scale gravitational wave listening devices began on several international fronts. The devices needed to be big. The largest, called the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), is run by Caltech and spans four square kilometers at two separate locations. Within its vacuum environment, LIGO waits for disturbances in a reflected laser beam as a means of sensing and measuring the dragon itself—gravity in the form of waves. It’s an enormous undertaking of scope, time, and funding.

With crisp storytelling, Levin tracks the creators of LIGO as it moves from thought to reality. Decades in the making, the success of this device is yet to be seen and, as some might say, hardly the point. It is another step in unlocking the mysteries of the universe. The geniuses of science will continue to tweak their experiments, conjure new frontiers to explore, and draw us closer to understanding. The field of scientists pursuing gravitational wave detection come from all corners of the world, and they are uplifted and hindered by their personalities. Humanity is the factor in the equation that’s impossible to measure. Beyond anticipated brilliance, we find professional paranoia, backbiting, and of course politics. However, the work proceeds with the relentless dedication of a monk, the ambition of a CEO, and at times the ruthlessness of a pirate.

Levin sketches the story with impressive color, while providing Polaroid-like narratives of the people and places along this scientific frontier. She is the type of science writer who can explain complex topics in understandable terms. In relating the beloved wizards and weirdos of the laboratories, she has brought the high-minded down to earth. That feat is as rare as hearing gravity, and it reveals the genuine process of discovery. History often documents invention as brilliant strokes of insight wrought to fruition, but Levin shows its plodding pace that spans decades, as well as its inevitable wrong turns into blind alleys and heartbreaking miscues that destroy careers. No doubt, her students at Barnard love to sit in on each lecture—scientists and laymen alike. If we had a device that measured passion, Levin would ring the meters and sound the alarms.

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